In October last year, Captain Andrew Robertson was piloting an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Sydney when he received a call from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. A Queensland sailor had run into difficulties two weeks into a sailing expedition around the Pacific Ocean - a ferocious storm had destroyed his mast and his gas tank was virtually empty. Glenn Ey, the sailor, had no choice but to activate the emergency position indicator radio beacon.
On shore, the Maritime Safety Authority received the distress signal and contacted the AC flight, which was in the vicinity, to request assistance.
"I was asked by Australian Maritime Safety Authority - if we had sufficient fuel - would we be able to search for a yacht in distress some 273 nautical miles off the coast of Sydney. That ultimately resulted in the rescue of Glenn Ey from his stricken vessel, Streaker," said Captain Robertson.
Diverting from the standard route and descending from a cruising altitude of 34,000 feet to 4,000 feet, Captain Robertson enlisted the help of his passengers to keep their eyes peeled through the windows of the plane for the distressed yacht. Miraculously, the 36-foot boat was spotted only 25-minutes after the sailor had raised the alarm and he was rescued a short time later by a nearby sea vessel.
Over the past 40 years, Captain Robertson has worked his way up through the Air Canada ranks - he's now a Captain of a Boeing 777, the airline's most senior aircraft.
"I love flying through the air - above the clouds - looking down on the earth from the sky. I love the feeling of power, freedom and control that flying gives the pilot. It's something that you can only experience - putting an aircraft exactly where you want it in the sky, or flying through, around, above, some cloud formation - nothing else in life is quite like piloting an aircraft," said Captain Robertson.
"The people that work for Air Canada make the airline special - they fly because they love to fly!"
Air Canada was founded by a Canadian Parliamentary Act in 1936 - the first passenger flight took place in 1937 flying from Vancouver to Seattle. The airline then commenced operations under its present name in 1965. A founding member of Star Alliance, today the airline principally operates from Toronto, Ontario, with flights connecting over 170 destinations on five continents.
Australian passengers can experience the generous hospitality of the cabin crew on board the daily AC service between Sydney and Vancouver, from where travellers can take an onward flight to Toronto on the east coast. Interestingly, Sydney is one of Captain Robertson's favourite destinations.
From Toronto, major international destinations for Air Canada include Beijing, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Paris and London. The airline also has an extensive North American network with many of the principal Canadian and American cities serviced by AC flights.
Captain Robertson's advice for taking long haul flights include eating when you're hungry (but not too much), sleeping when you're tired (as much as you can) and avoiding alcohol. These measures should help travellers transition to a new time zone quickly. However when it comes to travelling with children, Captain Robertson's advice is more general.
"Long distance flights with children are definitely challenging. My children were always entertained if they could watch a movie - when what they really should have been doing was sleeping. But movies usually won which makes day one at the new destination pretty much a sleep day. But honestly, if you're not used to travelling over multiple time zones - and children definitely aren't - you will probably want to rest the first day of your arrival anyway."
But where is the holiday destination of choice for a senior AC pilot?
"I love France - Air Canada flies in to Paris. The old Chateaux of the Loire Valley are definitely a must see - something to behold. Get a Michelin Guide and rent a car - preferably a sports car! Driving through the countryside in France is a wonderful experience. There are so many beautiful country roads to drive down. And of course the French are famous for their food, wine and fromage. The Michelin Guide shows these lovely hotels with little red rocking chairs - meaning quiet - c'est magnifique," he said.
"I would love to go sailing in the Whitsundays. I've sailed in the Atlantic off the East Coast of Canada and the British Virgin Islands and also off the West Coast of Canada in the Gulf Islands. I love sailing; in many ways it's a lot like flying. The decision making process, the ability to move with the wind, I love everything about sailing! In Canada the water is cold - at the Great Barrier Reef the water is warm! I visited Cairns and stayed on Green Island about 28 years ago, I really enjoyed it."